Of course it's too early to start handicapping who might win season 10 of "American Idol," but that's never stopped us before. After a lackluster first night on the big stage for the top 12 men on Tuesday, we decided to ask a few of our "Idol" experts who they thought nailed it and who appears to have what it takes to win the whole thing.
First, we turned to noted producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, All-American Rejects, Flyleaf), who worked with "Idol" alum Chris Daughtry on his band's smash 2006 debut. He said he was impressed with sudden front-runner Jacob Lusk and Casey Abrams.
"I think Casey's one of the best ones left, and Jacob is amazing," said Benson, who started watching the show intently after working with Daughtry. "Casey's definitely got a Mumford & Sons thing going on, and there's an opening for that quirkiness out there. I don't know if he can write his own material, so it's a matter of where you get him and how you produce him."
But he said he could see Lusk, who was compared to late soul icon Luther Vandross during Tuesday's show, selling millions of albums if he did the right kind of album given the absence of a traditional gospel/soul-influenced R&B crooner on the scene at the moment.
He was unimpressed with karaoke DJ Clint Jun Gamboa, whom he predicted would be gone soon, and said Brett Loewenstern's cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" was horrifying. "I thought Jim Morrison would have been there he would have killed him," he said of the late Doors singer. "I've never heard anything so bad in my life. He doesn't stand a chance." Benson, who has worked with Adam Lambert, said James Durbin looked a bit too much like the former glammy "Idol" runner-up, but didn't live up to Adam's vocals and was too shrieky.
He also thought Jordan Dorsey blew it when he folded right away and agreed when the judges said he picked the wrong song with "OMG" by Usher. "The minute he caved in so quickly, I thought, 'He'll never survive.' You can't do that."
Two dark horses he picked as ones to watch are Tim Halperin and Paul McDonald, whom he dubbed potential stars. "They're good-looking and have good voices, and with the right material, you could definitely make some good records with those guys."
He tagged 16-year-old country crooner Scotty McCreery as a potential wild card. Though he wondered whether S.C. could survive rounds when he had to sing something besides country, Benson said he would sign the high-schooler "tomorrow" just on his attitude, honesty and self-assured vocals. "The best thing that could happen to him is if he signed a contract tomorrow and he goes off and makes a record."
MTV's own "Idol" impresario, Jim Cantiello, said Tuesday's show was definitely a case of "strange vs. range." The performances were so all-over-the-place that Cantiello said he's starting to wonder if producers have a nefarious plan for this year's male singers. "I wonder if producers are stacking the deck with wildly offbeat male performers so that the female singers have a chance to stand out with their vocals," he said. "Think about it: Every highlight in the guy's show was a left-of-center 'Idol' oddity."
After three years in a row of male winners, Cantiello pointed to the unusual performances on the show, including Loewenstern's "fidgety" Doors cover, Durbin's "shrieky" Judas Priest bit, McDonald's Russell Brand-swaggering stage show and Abrams' "junkyard-dog impression," and wondered what the plan was.
"At this point, I find it hard to believe that Abrams, while engaging and entertaining so far, will be able to survive all the way to the finale," he said. "He'll have to show new angles of his crazy before the judges and viewers turn against him." As for Lusk, while previous gospel guys like season nine's Jermaine Sellers and season three's George Huff didn't have the vocal-aerobics abilities of Lusk, Jim noted that the "Idol" voting patterns have changed quite a bit since season-three winner Fantasia's histrionics propelled her to the top. "I won't be surprised if mainstream viewers flee Jacob's over-the-top dynamics and Casey's gonzo commitment before the confetti falls," he said.
Popdust writer Maura Johnston is keeping her eye on Halperin, whom she thinks has some Josh Groban-type potential and could have really leaped into the lead if he'd picked a better song on Tuesday night. "It didn't show off his power," she said of his Rob Thomas cover. "And he seemed awkward onstage."
She also thought Stefano Langone showed promise by picking a contemporary song (Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are"), which he dedicated to the ladies in the audience in what she dubbed a nice, savvy touch. And though she sometimes forgets that Abrams is only 19 because he comes off much older and more experienced, she said he seems to have a spark that plays well on the "Idol" stage and could work on radio.
As for McCreery, she wasn't feeling him. "He's very one-note," she said. "He has me lamenting that they're doing decades and not theme nights this year. Could you imagine him on disco night?"
Do you agree with our experts? Which guys do you think are killing it so far? Let us know in the comments below!
Don't miss "Idol Party Live" at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.com, following the "American Idol" results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke. In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.